Naked City

Austin Stories

After nearly a year of legal wrangling, the city's independent investigation into last summer's fatal shooting of Sophia King by Austin police officer John Coffey is set to go forward -- but the timing of the announcement has ruffled some rank-and-file feathers. According to Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman, the city this week signed a contract with Dallas attorney Stephen DeWolf to conduct the inquiry. The probe has been in limbo pending arbitration of a dispute between the city and the Austin Police Association over the conduct of the investigation, initiated by Police Monitor Iris Jones and her citizen review panel. An arbitrator ruled in the city's favor on both questions. Word that the investigation would commence this week made it to APD on June 11 -- the first anniversary of King's death. Huffman said she called the department "as a courtesy" so that Coffey would be aware of what was afoot, without realizing the significance of the date. "The timing of this is insensitive and very hurtful," says union president Mike Sheffield, especially "for [Coffey] and his family." -- Jordan Smith

Austin Energy announced this week that customer fuel charges will be going up, in response to the skyrocketing price of natural gas (which fuels over half of AE's generating capacity) and the ongoing safety shutdown of the South Texas Project nuclear plant. The utility projects increases to consumer bills of about 4% starting July 1, with further increases planned for November and January -- adding up to as much as a 16% increase for residential customers and 21% for commercial users. (The exact amount will depend on the price of natural gas.) However, Green Choice customers -- who have locked-in fuel charges in their long-term renewable energy contracts -- will see no change in their bills. Austin Energy claims that even with the increases, its customers will be paying 30% less in fuel charges than their friends in Houston or Dallas will. Fuel charges are passed along dollar-for-dollar; Austin Energy's actual rates haven't increased since 1994. But that may change; this week, the council will set July public hearings to discuss revisions to AE's rates as well as Texas Gas Service's proposed gas-rate increase. Also around the corner: substantial rate increases over the next two years for water, wastewater, and drainage. -- M.C.M.

If you spent last Saturday parked in front of the television with a bag of cheese doodles, then you missed out on local National Trails Day events -- including the ribbon-cutting for a new, 1.5-mile extension of the Town Lake Hike and Bike Trail in Guerrero-Colorado River Park. At least 40 people showed up for the ceremony, which included short speeches by Gus Garcia, Raul Alvarez, Austin Parks Foundation Executive Director Ted Siff, and others. Following the ribbon-cutting, bikers and walkers tried out the new trail, which offers views of colorful flowers and lush greenery, peace and quiet from the roar of traffic, and a safe pathway to the Montopolis Sportsplex. In the evening, trailblazers can spot deer hopping through the greenery. -- Lauri Apple

The Save Barton Creek Association board voted Monday to urge Travis Co. commissioners to enforce the Save Our Springs Ordinance on a Lowe's superstore development in Sunset Valley. The county may enforce SOS under the city-county subdivision regulations, but that point is likely to face a challenge by Lowe's attorneys. The home-improvement giant is already in litigation with the city of Austin over SOS and Lowe's "grandfather" claims. Lowe's plans to build a new store on Brodie Lane near William Cannon -- just north of an HEB store that was built in compliance with SOS. The SBCA, along with a coalition of other groups, is also creating a Web site (www.noaquiferbigbox.com) targeting both Lowe's and Wal-Mart, which also plans to build a Supercenter further south, on top of -- where else? -- the aquifer. The Travis commissioners are set to discuss Lowe's at their Tuesday meeting. -- Amy Smith

The hit-and-run accident at the end of Austin's Gay Pride Parade Saturday night has been chalked up by police as a drunk-driving incident, but several parade participants allege it was actually a hate crime. Christopher Kozun struck parade participant Matthew Smith around 9pm on the Congress Avenue Bridge and was later arrested on Barton Springs Road and charged with DWI and failure to render aid. (Smith suffered minor injuries and was treated at the scene.) Other parade participants on the bridge at the time have alleged that Kozun deliberately drove around police and verbally harassed marchers; they are asking witnesses to contact APD in hopes of getting increased charges brought against the driver. -- M.C.M.

All good things must come to an end: To apparent disbelief on both sides of the dais, the City Council last week actually approved on third and final reading, after week after week of debate, both a neighborhood-plan amendment process and an ordinance regulating superduplex construction. On the latter issue, visiting Judge Pete Lowry last week denied a temporary injunction to several plaintiffs -- including Travis Co. Court-at-Law Judge Gisela Triana-- suing the city over the superduplex project at 35th and Duval Street. Triana and her neighbors, who claim the project has driven down their property values and puts their safety at risk, may still pursue a permanent injunction preventing the building's occupancy. -- M.C.M.

Baptist Watch: Bucking recommendations from the Planning Commission, Historic Landmark Commission, and city staff, the City Council voted 4-3 last week to deny historic zoning to the old Hyde Park A&P grocery at 3810 Speedway, now owned by you-know-who. Hyde Park Baptist -- which filed a valid petition against the rezoning, thus requiring six votes to approve it -- would like to demolish the building, which it uses as a senior center, but says it has no imminent plans to do so. Meanwhile, city legal staff have told Hyde Park neighbors they plan to ask for a new trial in HPBC's lawsuit against the city over the church's ultracontroversial parking-garage project. -- M.C.M

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